Dubai: Behind the high concrete walls of the Dubai Central Jail, inmates keep themselves busy planting vegetables and tending to fruit-bearing trees. Now, they’re about to take it a notch highter, with all year-round planting, thanks to custom greenhouses.
The new project at the correctional came out of facility’s “Innovation Clubs”, a scheme which welcomes suggestions from inmates.
“We take inmates’ ideas which can be implemented,” Maj. Mohammad Abdullah Al Obaidli, director of Dubai Central Jail education and training department, told Gulf News.
“One idea was to produce organic food, given from an inmate who has a doctorate degree in organic farming. He proposed to train the inmates on how to establish a farm,” the jail official explained.
Training programmes for inmates include car repair and maintenance, handicraft making and farming. This equips offenders and gives them a chance at a career upon release, he said.
Maj. Al Obaidli explained how the project developed: “We initially set out to be a positive influence on offenders’ choices about growing their own produce and eating healthy, and to set up a course with accreditation.”
Having a greenhouse can open up a number of possibilities, he said.
“Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be fun and healthy. A larger greenhouse gives the chance to make enough to sell and profit from your farm,” he said.
Maj. Al Obaidli said the facility began to train inmates on organic farming.
“This month, we will start building a project farm called ‘Hassad’, Arabic for ‘harvest’.”
The project consists of 14 greenhouses, each occupying an area of 30 meters by 8 meters. The greenhouses allow for year-round cultivation.
The first phase will be built on a 9,600 sqm lot. If needed, new phases may be added, he said.
“One of the inmates specialising in computers designed the project. In the training hall, the inmates will get their training first, then they will implement what they learn in the greenhouses,” Maj. Al Obaidli said.
The facility will have capacity to train more than 200 inmates per year.
The greenhouse project forms part of Dubai Police’s strategy to empower inmates and develop their skills.
38 crop varieties
Initially, the jail facility began training inmates on how to establish a simple farm. Currently, inmates grow more than 38 kinds of crops — tomatoes of all kinds, pepper, lemon, cucumber, lettuce, corn, papayas and figs. The produce is distributed among inmates and supporting staff.
Before the idea of greenhouses came, the correctional allocated plots where inmates plant different varieties of fruits and vegetable.
As interest grew, officials added practical training on modern farming techniques, including hydroponics and aquaponics.
“Now, with the greenhouse, the inmates are able to plant crops that are hard to grow in the desert,” said Maj Al Obaidli.
The idea is that upon release, the inmates would have acquired the knowledge and skills to help them engage in farming to support themselves and their family. We set up the hydroponics study hall in the beginning, followed by aquaponics.
The main purpose of the farm, he explained, is training — and not commercial production.
"The idea is that upon release, the inmates would have acquired the knowledge and skills to help them engage in farming to support themselves and their family. We set up the hydroponics study hall in the beginning, followed by aquaponics," he said.
Interestingly, the inmate who submitted the idea was already released and travelled back to his country — but continues to provide online training to inmates still serving time, and this keeps the farm going.
“It will be a quasi-digital farm with a self-service mechanism. The inmates will supervise the production. It will include 14 greenhouses, two of which will be allocated for harvesting, cleaning and packaging operations,” Maj Al Obaidli said.
During the planting cycle, there will be a collaboration between the men’s jail and the women’s jail. In the women’s section, one greenhouse will be allocated for seeding and seedlings, then they will be moved to the big farm. "The inmates (themselves) will supervise the production," he said.